What Every Leader Needs to Know About Coaching

In our coaching workshops, we differentiate between management, feedback, and coaching conversations. It’s important for managers to differentiate between the three types of conversations, and determine when to use the different approaches. To review, management conversations are focused on advising, giving instructions, and directing the conversation to help your team members get specific things done. Feedback conversations focus on past behaviors to help people understand the impact of their behaviors, and what needs to change going forward. Coaching conversations are future-focused, and are used to engage, motivate, and empower people to achieve goals that they care about, and ultimately elevate their capabilities by unleashing their potential.

In my last blog, I mentioned a leader that I’m coaching who received feedback that he was not coaching his people enough, and that his team members wanted more “coaching.” He was taken aback, and couldn’t decipher why they weren’t “feeling the love,” to use his language.

We reviewed what true coaching is, and what he needed to change going forward. During that discussion, we reviewed seven practices that make the biggest difference in one’s ability to coach effectively.

1)      Establish the purpose of your meeting right from the start. Clarify that the purpose of the conversation is to advance them, not address issues and problem solve. A useful tool is the How I Want to be Coached form. It’s a great way to set the tone for coaching right from the start.

2)      Start the conversation by asking what they want to discuss.  Agree to a goal or outcome for the conversation.

3)      Ask insightful questions. Use “how” and “what” questions to open the conversation, such as: What are you working on? What are you trying to accomplish? How is your style affecting your effectiveness? Avoid having the conversation migrate to others. Keep it focused on them, and how they can change tomorrow.

4)      Challenge beliefs that could be limiting their effectiveness. Challenge your coachee to be more aware of beliefs and assumptions that may be getting in the way of them showing up in a way that they believe will help them.

5)      Listen for understanding. Your job is to facilitate the conversation so they can explore options and discover different ways to move forward. If you tend to jump in and problem solve, push your pause button. Ask questions, and listen deeply.

6)      Narrow the focus. Once they have identified options to move forward, help them narrow the options. Ask them which of the options resonate most with them. If they have too many options, nothing will get done.

7)      Follow-up and support. Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan wrote a great article entitled Leadership is a Contact Sport, and in the article they outlined the importance of follow-up, support, and encouragement. Remember that all it takes is one question, one check-in, to see how things are going.

As we concluded our own coaching conversation, it was obvious that his “coaching” conversations were more about reacting to problems, dealing with people issues, and task management; and not about advancing his team members. He has since responded by implementing 1:1 monthly meetings that are focused on true coaching.

Why Managers Think They’re Coaching When They’re Not!

I recently worked with a leader who received feedback on a 360 that indicated his coaching of his direct reports was negligible. After giving it some thought, he still disagreed with the feedback. When we discussed the feedback, his argument continued to be, “Hey, I meet with my people at least every month, sometimes weekly. So, I don’t understand why they don’t think they’re getting coaching!” This is not an unusual response to this type of feedback, so let’s explore this disconnect…because there is a big disconnect.

My experience, having worked with hundreds of managers, is that it comes down to the quality and type of conversation that they’re having with their team members. Some managers  don’t understand what “real coaching” looks like.  They believe that meetings focused on project updates, pipeline reports, and operational issues are coaching discussions. They are not. These are management conversations, and should be differentiated from coaching conversations.

Coaching is a practice to develop an individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities so they can achieve their maximum potential. Coaching is about helping individuals expand their awareness and discover options for moving forward on what they care about. Coaching is grounded in listening, asking questions, and exploring alternatives to create the results the coachee wants. I like the way John Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett in their book titled, The Extraordinary Coach, further define coaching: “Coaching helps individuals discover answers within themselves and helps them feel more personally empowered. The coach is also dedicated to helping to ensure the implementation and long-term follow-through of planned actions.”

The question I had for the leader who received the feedback on his coaching was, are you coaching or are you having a management discussion during your 1:1 meetings? The answer was clear for him. They have been directive management meetings versus true coaching conversations.

What types of conversations are you having with your people? If you’re having discussions on career aspirations, personal goals, self-limiting beliefs, and professional development objectives – you’re operating in the coaching genre. If you’re talking about projects, deadlines, process issues, etc. you’re having management conversations.

Next, I will share seven practices that the best coaches use to engage, empower, and motivate their teams to higher levels of performance.

“Everybody Matters” by Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia

Whem-coveren it comes to maximizing potential, Bob Chapman and his team at Barry-Wehmiller have mastered this leadership practice. This is the story of how the Barry-Wehmiller company has experienced enormous transformative change with the manufacturing companies that they acquired by simply applying leadership principles that build cultures of trust, security, and fulfillment. And the best part of the story is the business results that have resulted from adoption of these core principles and leadership practices. There is a reason why this book is on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller list. Check it out! 

“Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us” by Tasha Eurich

Tasha Eurich hits another home run bestseller with Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More than We Think. One of the most striking discoveries in her research was that 95% of us think we’re self-aware, and yet her research indicates only 10-15% are actually truly self-aware. If being self-aware is a meta-skill of the 21st century, then as leaders we need to look at how we increase our self awareness in support of our leadership effectiveness. We think so highly of this book that we’ve integrated Insight into our leadership development programs.

How to Get Your Team to Be More Courageous

During my career, I’ve worked with senior and executive teams to increase the effectiveness of their collective leadership.  One of the big skill areas that correlate to whether a team is high performing or not is what we call “Courageous Authenticity.” Put simply, does a team have the capacity to be real with each other; do they share their opinions openly; do they consider other perspectives without judgment; and do they hold the team interests above their own.

Over the past few months I’ve had several  teams identify this leadership competency as an area they want to grow and develop so it becomes part of their operating system. So, here are two ways to help your team be more courageous and real with each other.

1)      Be confident with your own identity, and share your opinions. When tensions arise, people often feel their identity is being threatened – examples include competence, need to be liked, etc. When threatened, people either get defensive or retreat. It’s impossible to be courageously authentic when you’re in a defensive orientation. I coach my clients to anchor back to the belief that they are entitled to their own opinions, just as others are entitled to their viewpoints. When expressing your opinions or as I say speaking your truth, you’ve got to be confident in your own identity and not worry about what others think. If you fear rejection, you’ll either go into fight mode or retreat. Bottom line, be confident with your own identity, and speak your truth even though it may ruffle some feathers. Advocate for yourself.

2)      The second way to be courageously authentic is to understand where others are coming from. There are three behaviors to start practicing as was outlined in Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen: Inquire, Paraphrase, and Acknowledge.

Let’s start with the ability to inquire. By asking solid open-ended questions, without judgment or blame, you can start to understand their story. Asking good insightful questions will mitigate defensiveness. The second practice is paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is about replaying back what you are hearing to ensure you are getting it. Phrasing such as “I’m hearing that you and your team are feeling threatened by this new policy, is that correct?” And lastly, people need acknowledgement to feel valued. They need to know their opinions matter and that they matter. Acknowledging does not mean that you’re agreeing with them, it simply means you understand and are hearing their position. Acknowledgment phrasing sounds like, “I now see where you’re coming from and I understand your concerns.” You have not agreed with them, just acknowledged their viewpoint and/or position.

If team leaders start to practice these two skill areas, their level of courageous authenticity will increase. And as we know from our work with The Leadership Circle, courageous authenticity is one of those power competencies that impact all aspects of a team’s performance.

If you have ideas and suggestions to help teams show up more courageously, post your comments and join the discussion!

The Power (of the) Nap

People have long searched for the remedy to the afternoon exhaustion that sets in,   leaving them tired and unproductive. Employees often sip coffee or pound energy drinks   in an attempt to stifle their grogginess. But research indicates the best thing you can do to improve your alertness, mood, and productivity, is simply take a power nap. Power naps have proven to be extremely effective in combating the effects of sleep deprivation and boosting productivity during the mid-day lull. In a research study conducted by the NASA sleep researchers, a short power nap of just 26 minutes boosted the performance of their pilots by an impressive 34%.

The act of napping shouldn’t be viewed as laziness or lethargy, but rather an essential part of the day. Winston Churchill was a major fan of naps, saying, “You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner… Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day.”

In the corporate world, a power nap may be a hard thing to implement. Companies like Google have established extravagant places for their employees to nap, referred to as the Energy Pods. But for those who aren’t lucky enough to enjoy the exuberant benefits provided by companies like Google, we may have to adjust our thinking on the   implementation of napping into the work place. Based on the statistics, napping will increase employee productivity. For managers, power napping should be something   that is encouraged. The best investment you make in your business might just be a comfortable place for employees to slip away for a quick nap. For employees working in an environment where napping is taboo, look for a quiet place during your lunch hours. At the very least, try napping when you get home. It could seriously improve your mood   during the evenings, and increase performance for any leftover work you have.

Here are some quick tips to get the most out of your power naps:

  • Go dark and quiet. The body is most able to fall asleep in this setting. If this  means goofy earplugs and an eye mask, so be it.
  • Keep it short. A power nap should only last between 20 and 30 minutes. Napping for too long can actually increase grogginess.
  • Be consistent. Try to shoot for napping at the same time each day so your body gets accustomed to napping and you will fall asleep faster.

So the next time you go to pour your fourth cup of coffee in an attempt to push through the afternoon, remember the power of napping. It will boost productivity, performance, mood, and alertness, and leave you feeling ready to take on the rest of your day.

“Mastering Leadership” by Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams

ihwx.a21a0296-2483-4b0a-adaa-1b10aa5d2e35.200.175Mastering Leadership is one of the most comprehensive, and well-researched leadership books that I’ve read in years. Both Anderson and Adams do an amazing job of presenting their Universal Leadership Model, and then outlining leadership principles and practices that will increase a leaders’ effectiveness. I would highly recommend this book; however it’s not bedtime reading! It requires some focus thinking, highlighting, and notes in the margin.

“Your Brain at Work” by David Rock

9780061771293_p0_v1_s118x184[1]David Rock’s book had been recommended a couple of years ago, and so I had a chance to finally pull it off my bookshelf and delve into his work. David outlines some fascinating research, does an outstanding job of taking hard science and applying it to the workplace through great storytelling. If you’re interested in learning more about how the brain works, I’d recommend this book.

An often forgotten best practice: “Starting with Why”

As organizations finalize their new year strategic planning, many are now shifting toward communicating and socializing their strategic direction so that their constituents not only “get it”, but are engaged, energized and inspired to take action.

Having worked with many clients in the practice area of change management, we have learned that many organizations miss the compelling “WHY” component. In other words, organizations launch into what we’re going to do and what we’re going to achieve, but do not include as part of the communication process why we’re asking you to change, why it’s important to be engaged, why we need you as part of the process, etc.

I recently came across a great book that reminded me of the importance of the WHY. Start with Why, by Simon Sinek, argues that we all think, act, and communicate in the exact same way – and it’s the complete opposite of what we all do. He refers to this powerful concept as The Golden Circle – and it provides a framework for building organizations, executing initiatives, and inspiring people to take action.

Any organization can explain what they do and how they do it. However, few are able to articulate why they exist. It is not about profit targets (those are results), or how we’re going to achieve our goals (those are strategies). The WHY is about communicating why your organization exists, why you do the things you do, why customers buy your products, and why your employees are loyal and proud to be associated with your organization. It seems intuitive which perhaps is why it’s often overlooked!

Starting with WHY works in big business and small business, in the nonprofit world and in politics. Those who start with WHY never manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them do so because they want to, not because they have to.

Check out Sinek’s book. A great read over the holidays.